Sunderland Primary Schools Boys have made the perfect start to the new-look Harrison Cup play-offs, as they bid to land the league title.
The current format sees every team play each other once (eight games), before a split with the top five competing for the Harrison Cup and the bottom four battling to win the Harry Charlton Trophy.
Sunderland secured a top-five finish with two games to spare when they defeated Washington 3-0 at a windswept Nissan.
In difficult conditions, the boys took a first-half lead when a delightful pass from Lewis Sayers split the defence to allow strike partner Harry Clay to run on and fire home through the keeper’s legs from the edge of the area.
Sunderland defended doggedly, with Daniel Atkinson and James Sloan turning in strong performances to nullify Washington’s front-line and give keeper Ben Mulvaney some excellent protection.
Kymani Severin increased the lead with his second goal in two games, driving home from the edge of the box.
The scoring was wrapped up shortly before full-time when a Shae Bungoni corner caused havoc in Washington’s box and Jack Forth bundled the ball home from close range.
That took Sunderland to second place in the table.
The play-off campaign started in style with a fantastic 3-2 victory over North Tyneside at Nissan.
Sunderland looked to avenge a 2-1 defeat earlier in the season, but they were on the back foot from the start as the visitors caused plenty of problems.
Five minutes in, North Tyneside were awarded a penalty when a turn of pace from a forward caught out defender Sloan, who, in a desperate attempt to make his tackle, brought down his opponent in the area.
Keeper Mulvaney, however, pulled off an outstanding double save, diving to his right to keep out the original effort before quickly recovering to block the rebound.
Man of the match Mulvaney made further saves in the opening half to give the boys a foothold in the game and they duly took the lead.
A surging run from Callum Pemberton saw him charge into the North Tyneside half before releasing Sayers, who fired over the keeper and into the top corner of the net for a fine finish.
The visitors levelled before half-time, though, as a free-kick on the touchline deflected off the top off Pemberton’s head and past Mulvaney, making it 1-1.
The half-time introduction of forwards Fletcher Ramsay and Severin boosted Sunderland, and the latter put them in front, when his shot from the edge of the box ballooned up off a defender and over the keeper into the empty net.
Oli Dixon, Bungoni and Hodgson dominated in midfield, but the failure to convert chances looked like it would prove costly when the visitors equalised with a shot from the edge of the area.
Sunderland kept at it, however, and secured a winner in stoppage time when Sayers’ right-wing cross was flicked against the post by Bungoni before striking Severin on the heel and rolling into the net for a fortuitous winner.
On the balance of play in a tremendous match, the boys just about deserved it.
Sunderland still have play-off ties against Darlington, Newcastle and Redcar and Cleveland to come.
The boys went on tour to The Wirral in the February half-term holidays, taking in a tour of Goodison Park and playing friendlies against Wirral Under-10s and Under-11s.
In the opening game against the Under-11s, on an unbelievably big pitch, the boys took the lead when great work from Clay forced a save from the home keeper but Sayers followed up to fire home from close range.
Sunderland then committed the cardinal sin of quickly conceding an equaliser, then went close as Pemberton had a shot well saved and then crashed the rebound off the inside of the post and along the goal line.
The first half ended level, but the second period was a big disappointment, with five goals seeing Wirral home 6-1.
The second game brought a 3-0 win over Wirral Under-10s, thanks to a much brighter performance.
Some outstanding saves denied the visitors in the first half, but Clay made the breakthrough in the second half, after being released by Ramsay.
David Hodgson crashed in an excellent left-footed shot from the edge of the area for 2-0, then Clay wrapped the scoring up, firing home after defender Sloan’s 30-yarder came back off the bar.
The boys play a friendly against Leeds at Nissan on Monday (11am) before travelling to Wallsend for a Derwent and Medomsley Cup quarter-final tie next Saturday.